St. George's Eve
Topics covered in this section:
- Witches on the Loose
- White Snakes
- Living Fire
- Pronunciation Help
On the night before the ancient beginning of the pastoral year, witches try to steal the crops from farmers and the milk from the cows. For this reason, almost all the rituals of St. George's Eve are designed to protect the fields and the cattle from evil influences.
St. George's Day (tomorrow) is a good day, so the eve of this good day is quite naturally preceeded by an evil day.
Witches on the Loose
On St. George's Eve, naked and disheveled witches gather in groups (covens) of twelve at the village boundaries. And they covet what the villagers have.
Legend claims that, at the urging of an older witch hag, the covens spend the early evening hours at their rendevous point at the edge of the village fighting among themselves.
The winning coven will be awarded the most fertile land in the village and will be allowed to control the rain. The losing coven's region, on the other hand, will be dry and suffer from constant drought.
Some of the witches tie an empty bag or a milk strainer to their leg, which they drag over the fields and pastures as they fly overhead.
The empty bag helps them steal corn from the fields and the strainer helps them steal milk from the cows.
Other witches gleefully cut a wide swath through the wheat fields with a sickle. Still others cast evil spells on blocks of salt before they bury them where the cows will find them.
Sometimes people dig a ditch around their field or barn and place wooden stakes with sharp points facing upward in the ditch to prevent witches from approaching.
White snakes figure prominently in the traditions surrounding St. George's Eve.
Legend says that if you are searching for treasure, you should stand beside a river until you see a white snake. When you see one, grab a silver coin and use it to cut off the white snake's head.
Return on Investment
No matter how many times you spend the silver coin that you used to cut off the snake's head, it will always return to you.
If you put garlic in the mouth of the white snake you just killed, you'll be able to see when the witches try to steal milk from your cows.
If you bury the head of the white snake you just killed and then plant garlic above it, you'll be able to find treasures.
Talk to Animals
But check back every St. George's Day to see if the garlic has grown. If a man eats the garlic before the St. George celebration, he will gain the miraculous ability to understand the language of animals.
And even more surprising, this man will even be able to hear the grass growing!
There are two kinds of fire — normal fire, which is lit by using matches or flint; and living fire, which is lit by rubbing dry wood together. It takes practice to light a fire by rotating soft wood on a hard wood base. But the result is well worth the effort it takes to learn.
Living fires should be kept burning until the sheep are brought down from the mountains.
Unmarried men light living fires on St. George's Eve in order to be lucky.
People jump over these fires while reciting magic words in order to bring luck to themselves.
People should go looking for living fires that miraculously appear on this night because they point to where treasures are hidden in the ground.
Purify the Air
Living fires are used to purify the area of evil spirits around the fire, to keep away witches, and to prevent natural disasters.
Medicines for various skin diseases are made by mixing the ashes of living fires with other herbs.
Protection from Witches
People perform various rituals designed to keep the witches away.
Make a Lot of Noise
Witches are afraid of noise. For this reason, people try to make as much noise as possible. Young men play flutes made of nut tree wood, people scream and bang on copper utensils, and priests ring all of the church bells.
People splash each other with holy water to keep the witches away. They also sprinkle some of it on the cattle and the barn or stable.
Remove Cows from Area
To protect their cattle, some men take their cows out to graze, keeping a careful watch over them.
Always Wear a Hat
If a man has to leave his house on this night, he should make sure he's wearing a hat before he steps outside. Otherwise, the witches will slap a bridle on their head and ride them like a horse. The man will be forced to run wherever the witch commands.
A number of natural defenses are employed to keep the witches at bay.
Herbs in Milk Bucket
Place enchanted herbs in a milk bucket filled with water and leave it in front of the barn all night. On the next day, take the herbs and cut them in little pieces, then mix them with salt and bran, and feed the mix to the cows.
Garlic on the Windows
Smear garlic on the doors and windows to keep witches from sneaking through the cracks. Then place wreaths made of green branches from willow, beech, or peach trees around the doors and windows.
To add an extra layer of protection, string brambles around those same openings.
Wreaths on the Cows
Save some of the wreaths to protect your cattle as well. Place them at the gate, around the barn door, near milk buckets, on the plow, and on the horns of your cows.
Stay Awake All Night
Those people who suffer from insomnia on this night will spend the entire night trying to block out the eerie sound of the witches' songs.
However, that's better than those who do fall asleep. Those who don't stay awake on St. George's eve will find themselves sleepy all year.
You can do several things to make sure you stay healthy after battling with witches.
Walk in the Fields
According to folk tradition, anyone who walks in the fields before the sun rises will be blessed with health.
[That is, if you can avoid a confrontation with a witch during the night.]
Use Nettle Whip
To be healthy and quick all year, get your family or a neighbor to hit you with nettles (gently, of course).
Plant a Tree
Folk wisdom says that the sky opens on this night so that trees have the power to bloom. Therefore, many people plant a green tree in front of their house on this night. If the tree grows, people say it was a gift from St. George.
To help American readers, the following pronunciation guide to Romanian words used above is provided. The sounds shown are only approximations, however.